Palin as Olmert? Free Flights, Fancy Clothes and Life of Luxury

Like our outgoing prime minister, the wanna-be VP owes it all to a septuagenarian former warrior

It turns out, the difference between a pitbull and a hockey mom isn't just lipstick, its designer lipstick, Manolo Blahnik pumps, and a $2,500 Valentino jacket. That should keep you warm at the Iron Dog snowmachine race.

It emerged this week that with the U.S. in the grip of one of its worst economic crises, the Republican National Committee had the clear and present judgment to run up a reported $150,000 bill to deck out Sarah Palin, the running-mate and rising Republican star who "is just like the rest of us", that is, if the rest of us drop a few thousand dollars at Nieman's on the way to the hockey rink.

As the Huffington Post reported Wednesday, the splurges included a reputed $75,000 shopping spree in a single day at a Nieman Marcus (or "needless markup" as they're widely known) store in "not so sure it's real America still" Minneapolis, as well as $50,000 spent at Saks Fifth Avenue chains in no-longer real America St. Louis and 10th circle of hell New York City.

In retrospect, though her rationale defending her foreign policy credentials was widely lampooned, it could be that Palin can in fact see Russia from Alaska; it would certainly explain how she came to adopt the fashion tastes of a Russian oligarch's wife since she became McCain's running mate.

The revelations have the potential to be infuriating and puzzling to many mainly because they come from the campaign that has played the "elitist" card with reckless abandon, and has made a central issue of their campaign the idealization and ownership of working-class "small-town values", hard-to-pin-down ideals that presumably cannot be found within a hundred miles of a Saks or Nieman's branch. Furthermore, over the last week, said campaign has turned its entire message into the celebration of one Joe the Plumber, an everyman who works with his hands and whose endorsement apparently bears more weight than that of former secretary of state Colin Powell.

From an Israeli-American point of view, Palin's "makeovergate" and the revelations this week that she billed the State of Alaska for thousands of dollars worth of commercial flights for her daughters, and for luxury hotel rooms for a family vacation, bear a certain resemblance to the travails and scandals of our disgraced outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert, a man who came to power suddenly as vice premier, when the septuagenarian former warrior who swooped him into the halls of power fell terminally ill. Ring any bells?

Although the case was later closed, the Rishon Tours affair involved allegations that Olmert used thousands of dollars in state funds to pay for foreign air travel flights for his family. During the investigation, it was alleged that the flights were paid in large part through the funneling of money intended for charity organizations, and by writing off the tickets as official state business, not dissimilar to claims that Palin air-freighted her daughters at the taxpayers expense while governor.

Palin's shopping sprees were legal, but they do display a lack of judgment or consideration for how the acts may be perceived by the public. The fact that both Olmert and Palin seemed to be willing to put their careers or public approval in jeopardy for such petty rewards at a time when they were ostensibly well-off public servants seems reckless at best.

In Palin's case, even if she was just following the advice of campaign handlers with blank checks who wanted to spruce up her image, the fact that she would take part in such a breakneck spend-a-thon at some of America's ritziest stores while the country is on the verge of depression, shows a bewildering level of obliviousness that Olmert could surely understand.

While in office, both Olmert and Palin adopted the standpoint of cheapskate guests at an expensive wedding, or underpaid employees suddenly given an expense account, with the attitude that "hey, if some somebody else is paying for it, why not supersize it? Why not first-class? Who cares who's watching?" Or better yet, like guests who paid for an all-inclusive weekend in Eilat who assume that means not only can they avail themselves of the all-you-can-eat buffet, but they might as well pocket the silverware while they're at it.

The decision is also indicative (again) of the McCain campaign's seeming ignorance of the power of the Internet and the instant fact-checking that has changed the nature of the news and political campaigns forever. Like with the quicksilver vetting process of the Alaska governor, which some say missed "Troopergate" and Palin's pregnant teenage daughter, or the repeated, groundless attacks on Obama that have been easily debunked by anyone with access to Google, Palin's spending sprees show an ignorance of the instant access to information and the 24-hour news cycle, and possibly, in the worst case, an outright contempt for the very public whose values they pander to.

And what I'm wondering is, where did Joe the Plumber get the suit he was wearing on Fox News the other night?